Christina Wong is a culinary cannabis educator, recipe creator, and self-described “baked baker” whose expertise making her own edibles has garnered widespread attention throughout the industry. From beautifully decorated shortbread desserts, elaborate cakes, and a wide variety of other delicious creations, Wong frequently celebrates the intersection between culinary art and cannabis.
Through her creative media company Fruit + Flower Co., Wong teaches others how to properly understand the process of making their own edibles by demystifying the terminology, reviewing the methods of infusion, discussing correct dosing, and providing numerous recipes to put all the learning into practice. High Times took a moment to chat with Wong about tips for beginners, which infusion methods are best, and what’s trending in the edibles scene.
The Art of the Home Edible
To Wong, food and cannabis are a perfect combination.
“If you like cannabis, you love food, because the best thing in the whole world is to get high and eat,” she says.
Despite this, many people miss out on the enjoyment of homemade edibles because cooking with cannabis can be intimidating.
“When I first started looking [for information], there was this mystique and mystery to making edibles,” Wong says. “For me, there was definitely a fear of messing up or making it too potent, getting too high, or giving something to somebody that gets them too high. I want to challenge people to rethink that we can make cannabutter and edibles at very low doses, it doesn’t have to be all super high dose.”
Buying edibles at the dispensary is convenient, but it can be cost prohibitive, she says.
“I think that cannabis is such an important plant medicine that the more people know how to cook and bake at home so that they can give themselves and their loved ones medicine, the better.”
Wong shares that one of the most primary essentials to creating edibles is understanding proper dosing. Instead of decarbing flower and infusing a fat like cannabutter she recommends beginners try adding an oil-based tincture in which the THC dosing is already measured. Once confidence is established, home cooks can start to learn how to decarboxylate their flowers or trim.All of the recipes Wong posts online use whole flower infused with either cannabis-infused butter or oil, and include directions to dose at 5 mg per serving or less.
For first timers, Wong recommends going for an easy decarboxylation method: Mason jars in an oven.
“Everyone has a Mason jar, everyone has an oven, and it’s foolproof,” she explains. “It’s smell proof. There’s less smell. And even if it’s not the most efficient way of getting all of the cannabinoids to convert and to infuse, at least that’s the place to start. And then they can get their confidence, and then try something new.”
Wong explains in more detail on Fruit + Flower Co. that her usual process to decarb cannabis includes placing cannabis flower in a pint-sized Mason jar and sealing the jar with a lid. After setting the oven to 240 degrees Fahrenheit, she heats the cannabis an hour, shaking the jar every 20 minutes. After it is left to cool, the decarbed cannabis can be infused to a fat such as butter or oil.
While Wong has made it her goal to educate and inspire others to learn how to make their own edibles, it is but one facet of her expertise. In the past, Wong worked with brands and organizations to create unique desserts, such as Source Cannabis and Stündenglass. Most recently, she helped host the AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) 3rd Annual Mogu Magu party (Mogu meaning mushroom in Chinese, and Magu is the name of a Chinese hemp goddess) held in September to celebrate the mid-autumn festival.
Although she recommends using whole flower for beginners, Wong sometimes branches out to use a variety of other types of cannabis ingredients in her more elaborate creations.
“I’ve been experimenting more cooking with concentrates just because I love the pure flavor of that,” she says. “You can get so much flavor and terpene profile and high potency using concentrates.”
Making edibles at home offers unlimited potential, but edibles sold in dispensaries are usually more limited. But recently Wong has noticed an increase in edibles infused with solventless concentrates as well as savory edible offerings.
“I’m seeing more solventless edibles coming out onto the market because I think people are caring more about the quality of not just the ingredients of what goes into their edibles, but also the quality of the cannabis that goes in,” Wong says. “But I think if you are a plant enthusiast, and you want to appreciate all flavors, and everything the plant has to offer, solventless is absolutely the way to go.”
Soft and crumbly, these luscious browned butter and vanilla shortbread bars are glazed with a creamy vanilla bean icing. Infused with 10 mg of cannabis each, strains such as Wedding Cake and Biscotti with doughy, creamy aromas, would pair well with the nutty, vanilla notes of this edible.
The showstopper decor is my signature “botanical bandit” style, made with pressed cannabis leaves and organic edible flowers. Inspired by my friend The Velvet Bandit, who spreads positive art through wheatpasting.
Time to Prepare: 55-60 minutes
Makes 20 approximately 3” x 1.5” bars dosed at ~10 mg each
3 cups all-purpose flour
⅓ cup cornstarch
1 ½ cups cannabutter (200 mg THC total), softened*
1 ¼ cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon choice of milk (whole, oat, hemp, almond)
Small cannabis fan leaves and edible flowers for decoration, rinsed and pat dry (Optional)
1. In a medium saucepan, melt the cannabutter over medium high heat until the butter starts bubbling and turns golden brown. Butter browns at 250 degrees F, a low enough temp to prevent cannabinoid and terpene burnoff. Remove from heat to cool to room temp, then refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour to chill until the butter has solidified from liquid to softened state. Stir occasionally. Can be made ahead and stored until ready to use.
2. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Line a 13x9x2-inch baking pan with parchment paper. In a small bowl, stir together flour and cornstarch. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, beat together softened cannabutter, powdered sugar until creamed and fluffy. Beat in 1 tablespoon milk, vanilla bean, and salt on medium speed until combined.
4. Slowly stir in the flour and cornstarch mixture a little at a time until combined. Continue beating until a crumbly dough comes together. It should feel like crumbly soft sand that holds together. Press together and make sure any crumbly flour bits are mixed thoroughly into the dough. If the dough is too dry and crumbly and not holding together, drizzle and mix in a little more milk until the dough can press and hold together.
5. Press the dough evenly into the prepared baking pan. Place into the oven and bake on the center rack for 40 minutes. Turn the pan halfway through baking to bake evenly until slightly golden brown on the edges. Remove pan from oven and place onto a rack to cool.
6. Make the Vanilla Glaze: In a small bowl, mix 1 cup of powdered sugar with milk and vanilla bean until you get a smooth, thin, runny glaze that just coats the back of a spoon with a thin film. If it’s too thin, add more powdered sugar a little at a time until you reach desired consistency. Set aside.
7. Glaze + Decorate: Place the small cannabis leaves and edible flowers (optional) each scattered across the top of the cookie. Pour glaze evenly on top of the entire cookie pan and over the cannabis leaves and flowers. Using a small spatula or pastry brush, gently spread to evenly distribute the glaze and coat the decoration. The leaves should look like they’re covered with a sheet of ice.
8. Let the cookie and icing cool completely in the pan until the glaze hardens, three or more hours. Using the sides of the parchment paper, lift the uncut cookie out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut into 20 rectangles. Store covered in a cool, dry place.
Once upon a time, Aleister Crowley tipped off a zealous decency society in Britain to the “conspicuous signs of prostitution” he’d observed in a tiny Scots town. Considering the source, Crowley himself, to be unimpeachable on such matters, the horrified do-gooders dispatched a morality squad to the spot, at considerable expense. When they presently reported no evidence at all of any such thing, Crowley explained, “It is conspicuous by its absence, fools.”
This is not to say Crowley was entirely sane. After his first wife, whom he called the Ape of Thoth, went wholly crazy, he would hang her by the heels in a closet while he entertained girl friends. He named their first girl-child with a string of misogynistic mystical epithets: Nuit Ma Ahathoor Hecate Sappho Jezebel Lilith Crowley, who died, age five, of typhus in Rangoon. He enjoyed few things more, when he was running his fabulous cult playland on Sicily in the 1920s, than watching his female groupies screw animals, which would be bloodily sacrificed just as they achieved orgasm. The only groupie he hexed to death, though, was male: Crowley had him drink some cat’s blood, ordained a day and hour for him to die, and die he obligingly did, on the very second.
Crowley treated cocaine as a test of pure will: Aleister vs. the Drug. There was no way he’d get strung out behind coke. If legions of weak-willed plebians might become slaves to cocaine, was that any suitable grounds for prohibiting it from superior immortals like Crowley? He wrote this paper on cocaine in 1917, when Britain was already following the USA’s lead in banning pleasure drugs, to Crowley’s vast displeasure: “We are not under the laws and do not enjoy the liberties which our fathers bequeathed us; we are under a complex and fantastic system of police administration nearly as pernicious as anything even in America.”
To “master” coke, Crowley kept bowls of it around at all times, to be snorted as copiously as possible, and the same with mescaline and heroin. The heroin, of course, got decidedly ahead of him. Unlike coke, which is nonaddictive, smack had a special physical magic beyond even Crowley’s monumental will. But this only developed into a tougher test of his powers; for the rest of his life, he would purposely kick smack every few months, creating brilliant crazy occultist fantasies amid the withdrawals, and then relapse directly back into the shit. Of course he eventually died—in 1947, at the age of 72, after more than 50 years of gargantuan drug abuse.
Of all the graces that cluster about the throne of Venus the most timid and elusive is that maiden whom mortals call Happiness. None is so eagerly pursued; none so hard to win. Indeed, only the saints and martyrs, unknown usually to their fellow men, have made her theirs; and they have attained her by burning out the ego-sense in themselves in the white-hot steel of meditation, by dissolving themselves in that divine ocean of consciousness whose foam is passionless and perfect bliss.
To others, Happiness only comes by chance; when least sought, perhaps she is there. Seek, and ye shall not find; ask, and ye shall not receive; knock, and it shall not be opened unto you. Happiness is always a divine accident. It is not a definite quality; it is the bloom of circumstances. It is useless to mix its ingredients; the experiments in life which have produced it in the past may be repeated endlessly, and with infinite skill and variety—in vain.
It seems more than a fairy story that so metaphysical an entity should yet be producible in a moment by no means of wisdom, no formula of magic, but by a simple herb. The wisest man cannot add happiness to others, though they be dowered with youth, beauty, wealth, wit and love; the lowest blackguard shivering in rags, destitute, diseased, old, craven, stupid, a mere morass of envy, may have it with one swift-sucked breath. The thing is as paradoxical as life, as mystical as death.
Look at this shining heap of crystals! They are hydrochloride of cocaine. The geologist will think of mica; to me, the mountaineer, they are like those gleaming feathery flakes of snow, flowering mostly where rocks jut from the ice of crevassed glaciers that wind and sun have kissed to ghostliness. To those who know not the great hills, they may suggest the snow that spangles trees with blossoms glittering and lucid. The kingdom of faery has such jewels. To him who tastes them in his nostrils—to their acolyte and slave —they must seem as if the dew of the breath of some great demon of immensity were frozen by the cold of space upon his beard.
For there was never any elixir so instant magic as cocaine. Give it to no matter whom. Choose me the last loser on the earth; take hope, take faith, take love away from him. Then look, see the back of that worn hand, its skin discolored and wrinkled, perhaps inflamed with agonizing eczema, perhaps putrid with some malignant sore. He places on it that shimmering snow, a few grains only, a little pile of starry dust. The wasted arm is slowly raised to the head that is little more than a skull; the feeble breath draws in that radiant powder. Now we must wait. One minute—perhaps five minutes.
Then happens the miracle of miracles.
The melancholy vanishes, the eyes shine, the wan mouth smiles. Almost manly vigor returns, or seems to return. At least faith, hope and love throng very eagerly to the dance; all that was lost is found.
The man is happy.
To one the drug may bring liveliness, to another languor, to another creative force, to another tireless energy, to another glamour, and to yet another lust. But each in his way is happy. Think of it!—so simple and so transcendental! The man is happy!
I have traveled in every quarter of the globe; I have seen such wonders of nature that my pen sputters when I try to tell them; I have seen many a miracle of the genius of man; but I have never seen a marvel like this.
Is there not a school of philosophers, cold and cynical, that accounts God to be a mocker? That thinks He takes His pleasure in contempt of the littleness of His creatures? They should base their theses on cocaine! For here is bitterness, irony, cruelty ineffable. This gift of sudden and sure happiness is given but to tantalize. The story of Job holds no such acrid draught. What were more icy hate, fiend comedy than this, to offer such a boon, and add “This you must not take”? Could not we be left to brave the miseries of life, bad as they are, without this master pang, to know perfection of all joy within our reach, and the price of that joy a tenfold quickening of our anguish?
The happiness of cocaine is not passive or placid as that of beasts. It is self conscious. It tells man what he is, and what he might be. It offers him the semblance of divinity, only that he may know himself a worm. It awakens discontent so acutely that never shall it sleep again. It creates hunger. Give cocaine to a man already wise, schooled to the world, morally forceful, a man of intelligence and self-control. If he be really master of himself, it will do him no harm. He will know it for a snare; he will beware of repeating such experiments as he may make; and the glimpse of his goal may possibly even spur him to its attainment by those means which God has appointed for His saints.
But, give it to the clod, to the self-indulgent, to the blasé—to the average man, in a word—and he is lost. He says, and his logic is perfect: This is what I want. He knows not, neither can he know, the true path; and the false path is the only one for him. There is cocaine at his need, and he takes it again and again. The contrast between his grub life and his butterfly life is too bitter for his unphilosophic soul to bear; he refuses to take the brimstone with the treacle.
And so he can no longer tolerate the moments of unhappiness, that is, of normal life, for he now so names it. The intervals between his indulgences diminish.
And alas! the power of the drug diminishes with fearful pace. The doses wax; the pleasures wane. Side-issues, invisible at first, arise; they are like devils with flaming pitchforks in their hands.
A single trial of the drug brings no noticeable reaction in a healthy man. He goes to bed in due season, sleeps well and wakes fresh. South American Indians habitually chew this drug in its crude form, when upon the march, and accomplish prodigies, defying hunger, thirst and fatigue. But they only use it in extremity; and long rest with ample food enables the body to rebuild its capital. Also, savages, unlike most dwellers in cities, have moral sense and force.
The same is true of the Chinese and Indians in their use of opium. Everyone uses it, and only in the rarest cases does it become a vice. It is with them almost as tobacco is with us.
But to one who abuses cocaine for his pleasure nature soon speaks, and is not heard. The nerves weary of the constant stimulation; they need rest and food. There is a point at which the jaded horse no longer answers whip and spur. He stumbles, falls a quivering heap, gasps out his life.
So perishes the slave of cocaine. With every nerve clamoring, all he can do is to renew the lash of the poison. The pharmaceutical effect is over; the toxic effect accumulates. The nerves become insane. The victim begins to have hallucinations. “See! There is a gray cat in that chair. I said nothing, but it has been there all the time.”
Or, there are rats. “I love to watch them running up the curtains. Oh yes! I know they are not real rats. That’s a real rat, though, on the floor. I nearly killed it that time. That is the original rat I saw; it’s a real rat. I saw it first on my windowsill one night.”
Such, quietly enough spoken, is mania. And soon the pleasure passes, is followed by its opposite, as Eros by Anteros.
“Oh no! they never come near me.” A few days pass, and they are crawling on the skin, gnawing interminably and intolerably, loathsome and remorseless.
It is needless to picture the end, prolonged as this may be, for despite the baffling skill developed by the drug lust, the insane condition hampers the patient, and often forced abstinence for a while goes far to appease the physical and mental symptoms. Then a new supply is procured, and with tenfold zest the maniac, taking the bit between his teeth, gallops to the black edge of death.
And before that death comes all the torments of damnation. The time sense is destroyed, so that an hour’s abstinence may hold more horrors than a century of normal time-and-space-bound pain.
Psychologists little understand how the physiological cycle of life, and the normality of the brain, make existence petty both for good and ill. To realize it, fast for a day or two; see how life drags with a constant subconscious ache. With drug hunger, this effect is multiplied a thousandfold. Time itself is abolished. The real metaphysical eternal hell is actually present in the consciousness which has lost its limits without finding Him who is without limit.
Consider the debt of mankind to opium. It is acquitted by the deaths of a few wastrels from its abuse?
For the importance of this paper is the discussion of the practical question: Should drugs be accessible to the public?
Here I pause in order to beg the indulgence of the American people. I am obliged to take a standpoint at once startling and unpopular.
I am compelled to utter certain terrible truths. I am in the unenviable position of one who asks others to shut their eyes to the particular that they may thereby visualize the general.
But I believe that in the matter of legislation America is proceeding in the main upon a totally false theory. I believe that constructive morality is better than repression. I believe that democracy, more than any other form of government, should trust the people, as it specifically pretends to do.
Now it seems to me better and bolder tactics to attack the opposite theory at its very strongest point.
It should be shown that not even in the most arguable case is a government justified in restricting use on account of abuse; or allowing justification, let us dispute about expediency.
So, to the bastion—should “habit-forming” drugs be accessible to the public?
The matter is of immediate interest, for the admitted failure of the Harrison Law has brought about a new proposal—one to make bad worse.
I will not here argue “the grand thesis of liberty.” Free men have long since decided it. Who will maintain that Christ’s willing sacrifice of his life was immoral, because it robbed the state of a useful taxpayer?
No. A man’s life is his own, and he has the right to destroy it as he will, unless he too egregiously intrude on the privileges of his neighbors.
But this is just the point. In modern times the whole community is one’s neighbor, and one must not damage that. Very good. Then there are pros and cons, and a balance to be struck.
In America the prohibition idea in all things is carried, mostly by hysterical newspapers, to a fanatical extreme. “Sensation at any cost by Sunday next” is the equivalent in most editorial rooms of the alleged German order to capture Calais. Hence the dangers of anything and everything are celebrated dithyrambically by the Corybants of the press, and the only remedy is prohibition. A shoots B with a revolver; remedy, the Sullivan Law. In practice, this works well enough, for the law is not enforced against the householder who keeps a revolver for his protection, but is a handy weapon against the gangster, and saves the police the trouble of proving felonious intent.
But it is the idea that was wrong. Recently a man shot his family and himself with a rifle fitted with a Maxim silencer. Remedy, a bill to prohibit Maxim silencers! No perception that, if the man had not had a weapon at all, he would have strangled his family with his hands.
American reformers seem to have no idea, at any time or in any connection, that the only remedy for wrong is right; that moral education, self-control, good manners, will save the world; and that legislation is not merely a broken reed, but a suffocating vapor. Further, an excess of legislation defeats its own ends. It makes the whole population criminals, and turns them all into policemen and spies. The moral health of such a people is ruined forever; only revolution can save it.
However, let us concede the prohibitionist claims. Let us admit the police contention that cocaine and the rest are used by criminals who would otherwise lack the nerve to operate. They also contend that the effects of the drugs are so deadly that the cleverest thieves quickly become inefficient. Then for heaven’s sake establish depots where they can get free cocaine!
You cannot cure a drug fiend; you cannot make him a useful citizen. He never was a good citizen, or he would not have fallen into slavery. If you reform him temporarily, at vast expense, risk and trouble, your whole work vanishes like morning mist when he meets his next temptation. The proper remedy is to let him ganghis ain gait to the de’il. Instead of less drug, give him more drug, and be done with him. His fate will be a warning to his neighbors, and in a year or two people will have the sense to shun the danger. Those who have not, let them die, too, and save the state. Moral weaklings are a danger to society, in whatever line their failings lie. If they are so amiable as to kill themselves, it is a crime to interfere.
You say that while these people are killing themselves they will do mischief. Maybe. But they are doing it now.
Prohibition has created an underground traffic, as it always does, and the evils of this are immeasurable. Thousands of citizens are in league to defeat the law, are actually bribed by the law itself to do so, since the profits of the illicit trade become enormous, and the closer the prohibition, the more unreasonably big they are. You can stamp out the use of silk handkerchiefs in this way: people say, “All right, we’ll use linen.” But the “cocaine fiend” wants cocaine, and you can’t put him off with Epsom salts. Moreover, his mind has lost all proportion. He will pay anything for the drug. He will never say, “I can’t afford it.” And if the price be high, he will steal, rob, murder to get it. Again I say: You cannot reform a drug fiend. All you do by preventing them from obtaining it is to create a class of subtle and dangerous criminals, and even when you have jailed them all, is anyone any the better?
While such large profits (from 1,000 to 2,000 percent) are to be made by secret dealers, it is to the interest of those dealers to make new victims. And the profits at present are such that it would be worth my while to go to London and back first class to smuggle no more than I could hide in the lining of my overcoat! All expenses paid, and a handsome sum in the bank at the end of the trip! And for all the law, and the spies, and the rest of it, I could sell my stuff with very little risk in a single night in the Tenderloin.
Another point is this: Prohibition cannot be carried to its extreme. It is impossible, ultimately, to withhold drugs from doctors. Now doctors, more than any other single class, are drug fiends, and also, there are many who will traffic in drugs for the sake of money or power. If you possess a supply of the drug, you are the master, body and soul, of any person who needs it.
People do not understand that a drug, to its slave, is more valuable than gold or diamonds. A virtuous woman may be above rubies, but medical experience tells us that there is no virtuous woman in need of the drug who would not prostitute herself to a ragpicker for a single sniff.
I still say that prohibition is no cure. The cure is to give the people something to think about; to develop their minds; to fill them with ambitions beyond dollars; to set up a standard of achievement which is to be measured in terms of eternal realities; in a word, to educate them.
If this appears impossible, well and good. It is only another argument for encouraging them to take cocaine.
Developers are in the middle of a race to see how they can apply freeze dryer technology to dry and cure weed faster, taking a process that could have taken weeks into something that is pretty much instantaneous. Drying cannabis after it’s harvested removes the moisture from the flowers so they can be properly smoked or vaporized and typically takes anywhere from 10 to 14 days. After that, the flowers are cured, a week to month-long process which removes additional moisture and helps preserve the buds and retain their flavor and potency. With freeze drying technology, what once could take weeks can be done in a day or within a matter of hours.
Typical drying and curing involves hang-dried buds, Mason jars, burping, and a whole array of commercial tools to make the finishing process possible, but freeze dryer technology is changing things fast. But does the process really work? Is the bud any good? Will more cannabis companies look to adopt this technology in the future? High Times checked in with experts on this relatively new method for drying and curing. There are an array of differences in tools that can be used to dry, freeze dry, cure, or prepare for curing—with some, in particular, designed specifically for drying cannabis.
“It’s a different technology,” Oaksterdam instructor Jeff Jones tells High Times, noting that the freeze-drying process to traditionally dried and cured cannabis is like comparing personal production preferences such as hand-trimmed weed versus machine-trimmed weed.The texture of the flower differs, but not really the size, potency, or nug structure.
Jones taught about the medical cannabis field in California for well over 20 years, co-founding the Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative (OCBC) in 1995 and helping to shape Oaksterdam. While he admits it’s not the same as hang-dried cannabis and traditionally cured flowers, Jones believes there is a place for freeze-dried weed in the cannabis space.
Several companies are leading the charge toward finding the most efficient solutions to faster drying and curing periods. Avoiding hang-drying systems can also help mitigate other problems such as mold.
WAVE, a company building freeze dryer machines out of Vienna, Austria, is one of the companies utilizing this innovative technology. General manager of WAVE Freeze Dryers USA Alejandro Cerdas is a seasoned vet in the cannabis industry and says that freeze drying cannabis makes the post-production process more energy efficient and provides other benefits as well.
“There are a series of benefits: energy efficiency, avoiding mold going through the process, and preservation,” Cerdas says.
Each company we spoke to provides machines with different benefits, often using patent-pending technology.
The Technology Behind Freeze Drying
Traditional freeze dryers work with cannabis by freezing the flower, then often reducing the pressure and applying heat to allow the frozen water in the bud to change directly to a vapor, i.e., sublimate. With this in mind, each company provides different processes.
“You basically start with your material and then that’s slightly frozen and then put under a vacuum, and basically sublimation occurs,” WAVE CEO Dan Berlin says. “The ice goes straight to vapor. It skims over the water phase. And we slowly raise the temperature through the process and gently remove water. And we’re trying to leave the flower at about 11-12% [moisture] when we pull it out—unlike traditional freeze drying when you go and take all the water out for when you have freeze-dried berries or things like that. With cannabis, we’re trying to effectively cure it so that you don’t have to go through the whole drying and curing phase.”
Cryo Cure’s patented design, on the other hand, has several key differences from traditional freeze-drying methods—something the company likes to distinguish for people who are new to freeze-drying methods.
“We’re trying so hard to educate the public on the differences of freeze drying versus Cryo Curing—because both utilize a freeze dryer, but the final results couldn’t be any more different,” Cryo Cure CEO Tracee McAffee says explaining that the system keeps more trichomes and terpenes intact than traditional freeze drying.
According to the company, the Cryo Cure system’s freeze temps and drying times are more fine-tuned to cannabis than similar products. The Cryo Cure process is to freeze the cannabis or industrial hemp to -20 to -30 degrees Fahrenheit for no less than 10 hours to preserve the shape and integrity of the flowers, and select models have a built-in freezer for this purpose. The frozen product is placed into the material chamber under vacuum pressure, similarly to other freeze dryer models.
Keirton Inc. and Trichome Technologies combine the drying and extracting process in their machine while maintaining quality and preserving terps—launching Velos Cold Cure process and Velos Essence. Velos Essence can capture essential oils for use in vape cartridge flavors, edibles, beverages, fragrances, and pharmaceuticals.
“Velos Essence is a patent-pending process that we have on extracting terpenes–the full terpene profile, so monoterpenes and everything from fresh cannabis,” Keirton Inc. CEO Jay Evans says.
Terpenes are the chemical properties within cannabis that give the plant its taste and smell. These volatile hydrocarbons also play a role in pot’s effects and are classified by the number of carbon units they contain with monoterpenes containing two isoprene units.
“You get about an 80% extraction, so then that flower can be used for other extractions and the terpenes can be added in after extraction,” Evans explains. “So a lot of extraction processes, the monoterpenes are damaged. This pulls them all off organically.”
Velos also has a new product up its sleeve, which is still in development. Even burping, the process of allowing moisture and CO2 to escape during the curing process, can be automated.
“It’s called the Cure Puck,” Evans says. “It’s a device, and it’s not released yet, it’s a device that connects to a traditional bin or tote, that will automatically monitor the gasses inside of the tote, along with temperature and humidity, and burp the tote when those gasses reach a certain level.”
Saving Time & Improving Efficiency
The final cure using freeze dryers takes 24 hours or less—nearly all the companies we spoke with provide similar timetables, ranging from about 12-24 hours. Using the technology usually means money for businesses trying to improve efficiency. Getting bud from harvest to the finished stage can now be completed within a matter of days.
“It could be two or three days maybe, you know, and then it can get packaged,” says Cerdas. “It doesn’t need much of the [normal] process.”
But you can’t always expect the same results from a freeze dryer system unless the settings are set to the specific needs of cannabis flower as you don’t want them to dry out as much as other traditionally freeze-dried materials.
“Traditional freeze-drying methods, even by using freeze dryers, work as long as they can be controlled—if you know the right parameters, so it preserves the terpenes,” said Greg Baughman, who co-founded Cryo Cure with McAffee. “So in a nutshell, what we do is we are able to skip the hanging phase of drying and you go right into a final cure. So our machine replaces that seven to two weeks of hanging, drying in a room and takes that down to between 12 and 16 hours, depending on the density of the cultivar.”
Traditional freeze dryers are designed to remove all of the moisture—not what we want for smokable flower.
“So that’s where our secret sauce lies, is that we’ve dialed in the perfect recipe to make sure that you don’t remove all any of the terpenes and all of the moisture,” Baughman says. “We started realizing that there’s not that many people who manufacture refrigerators out there in the selection. You know, we went through every single manufacturer and they’re all made for different things and they specialize in different industries.”
If a person uses a traditional freeze dryer, they’re not going to be designed specifically for batches of cannabis flower. And companies like Cryo Cure have mitigated many of these problems already to become a more cost-effective purchase for growers.
“Downtime equals dollars,” Baughman says.
The Velos Cold Cure process offers a similar timetable, marking potentially huge improvements in efficiency.
“We can take post-harvest drying from traditionally 10-14 days, or 10-20 days, depending on how it’s done to one day,” says Evans.
What’s the Bud Like?
While the size of the buds stays the same, some say that the texture is slightly different. The freeze-dried flower can range from a light popcorn texture and weight to being almost indistinguishable from hang-dried cannabis. The flower’s quality depends on which machine and process you decide to use.
Cerdas says WAVE is not simply freeze-drying the flower because freezing the flower creates irreparable damage to the cell walls.
Typical freeze drying will “eventually produce a flower that has a look and feel like popcorn, and it will crumble,” he explains. “With that damage comes the horrible issue of losing a big amount of terpenoids through the cold boil produced by the combo of vacuum and temperature.”
Cerdas prefers to call his cannabis “sharp dry” instead of freeze dried.
“Basically, the sharp dry flower feels, smokes, and behaves very similar to regular hang-dried flower,” he says.
The difference in texture might not be as important to everyone, particularly those whose primary interest is keeping cannabis fresh for as long as possible.
“What I can say about this freezing is that it’s not going to capture 100% of the market, but it will have a niche much like Folgers Coffee and any processing materials for shelf-ready storage,” Jones says. “Because if you wanted to put this material into your bug out bag and have it for two years, I’m not going to call my herb that I just put myself there good because it’s not going to taste good. It’s going to be totally stale and the consistency will shift.”
WAVE’s freeze dryer models also appeal to extraction artists because the texture of the original flower does not matter so much.
“We have some folks using the equipment for bubble hash in the extraction business,” Cerdas says. “And that’s always interesting because the benefit it will bring in is completely different from what has happened in the past: As I mentioned, we’ve not found a way of using the equipment without using the conventional freeze drying process—which we found damages the flowers. And you get that weird taste and feel that people really don’t like.”
Others agree with the difference in texture, but consider it to be better.
“There’s definitely a difference: number one, the color and the look is much better than traditionally dried flower,” Cerdas says. “The terpene profile is often better. The thing that traditional customers are not used to is the texture. It’s different.”
One perk of freeze-dried cannabis is its ability to be stored for long periods of time.
“It’s got to be kept in a lightproof and airtight container and it’ll last a long time,” McAffe says. “We have some samples that we’ve had in the cupboard for about three years. It looks just the same. We take little pieces off. Yeah. Whenever we have customers that come over demos, we pull it out and we said, you know, like, ‘Wow, that’s good.’ And again, that’s two years old!”
It remains to be seen how the consumer marketplace will react to freeze-dried cannabis, but the benefits in terms of saving time on the producer’s end are undeniable.
The swirl of excitement around developments in the cannabis industry is at an all-time high, with an endless parade of biz cons and trade shows trumpeting the latest innovations in genetics, technology, equipment, and extraction. The Dank Duchess cuts through the noise with her passion for traditional hash making and her mission to educate people about the subtleties and nuances of creating the most phenomenal melt in the world.
It’s a cool gray day in Far Rockaway in Queens, New York, when we meet via video call, and The Dank Duchess is in peaceful repose on a blanket on the beach as gulls cry and waves crash in the distance. She recently moved back to New York City, where she grew up as a first-generation Panamanian American.
“I moved away at 17,” she says. “And 26 years later, I’m home.”
Duchess speaks thoughtfully, with the slightly formal tone of an educator, as she unfurls the details of her life and career in cannabis. After graduating from Howard University in Washington D.C., where she studied mathematics and psychology, Duchess moved to Miami, where she smoked weed for the first time.
“I didn’t have my first puff of cannabis until I was out of college for two years,” she says. “And it was because I had this boyfriend, who I thought was pretty brilliant, but I didn’t understand why he smoked so much weed because weed was going to kill you. Right? Everyone knew that.”
Nevertheless, one day she felt the pull to try it when one of his glass pieces struck her as particularly beautiful.
“It called me,” she says. “And I felt like anything that could be associated with it couldn’t be that bad. So I had my first puff, and yeah, it’s cliché, but my life changed. I suddenly went from a binary perspective, where everything was very black and white, to seeing all these different shades of gray—it was almost a visual opening up of doors. I was amazed.”
Very soon after that, Duchess started growing her own cannabis. But after a decade of growing in Miami, she wanted to shake off the stresses of living in a state where simple possession of a joint could land you in jail. She considered moving to Seattle, but “it was so gray it made me sad,” she laughs. So instead, she chose Oakland for its sunnier weather and because the city had passed an ordinance making adult cannabis offenses Oakland’s lowest law enforcement priority.
“I knew that I wasn’t ever gonna be worrying about any kind of legality—and that made me flourish,” Duchess says. “I took that opportunity to grow a good amount of weed on my roof.”
Duchess wanted to write about cannabis as well. She was an avid magazine reader and felt weed media, in particular, failed to include diverse voices and perspectives. Soon after landing in Oakland, she went to a HempCon event, where she spotted the industry pioneer and hash-making legend Frenchy Cannoli. She knew Frenchy was a contributor to Weed World Magazine, so she seized her chance and asked him to coffee, not suspecting that the meeting would transform her life.
They’d briefly met at a High Times Cannabis Cup in June of that year, where she remembers being dazzled by the superabundance of concentrates at that event: “BHO was flowing like a river.” She saw a huge crowd gathered around a booth and made her way to the front.
“I expected to see the most beautiful golden nuggets, dabs, crumble… and all I saw was chunks of chocolate. I was super disappointed because I don’t like chocolate.”
She said as much as she turned to leave, “and this little voice says, ‘This is not chocolate. This is hashish.’” It was Frenchy.
“So I got my first dab of hashish, and it was awesome,” Duchess says. “And I took a picture with this little French man and went about my business.”
A few weeks later, she moved to California. She knew that besides growing great weed, she could offer a writer’s perspective that was sorely lacking.
“In 2014, I felt like there was nobody writing for any of the cannabis magazines who really related to my situation,” Duchess says. “And I don’t feel like that’s changed much at all. Part of the issue is that there are cultural concerns we’d rather have addressed by people of that culture. You don’t see many Black and brown faces in cannabis media.”
As a longtime subscriber of Weed World, she was determined to write for the mag. Frenchy was an esteemed contributor, with highly regarded articles like “The Lost Art of the Hashishin” and multi-part series on the origins of concentrate and cannabis terroir. Duchess knew they’d have plenty in common, but she was surprised by just how much: “We were both web designers in the ’90s; Frenchy went on to do purse design in Japan, and I did landscape design, so we traded stories of being hardcore designers.”
Frenchy asked if she’d be interested in writing for Weed World—on one condition. She’d need to learn how to make hash. “I’m always honest about this,” Duchess says, shaking her head at the memory.
“I was disappointed that Frenchy felt that for me to write about hash, I’d have to learn to make hash because I didn’t care about that. I moved to California to contribute to cannabis media and to grow more weed. Hash did not appeal to me.”
However, she didn’t want to miss an opportunity, so a month later, Duchess found herself in Frenchy’s basement, making hash for the first time.
“It was Sept. 10, 2014. What we used to do back then was, after the hash was collected from the plant, we would air dry it. That took seven days. On the 17th, I pressed the hash. I celebrate Sept. 17 every year because, on that day, I knew that there was no way I wasn’t going to do this for the rest of my life. It was everything.”
Under the gray Far Rockaway sky, Duchess glows with the recollection, her voice warm.
“I fell into caressing the hash the way when I’m writing, I want to caress words about hash. Hash making is so visceral. And when done well, it’s so beautiful. The aesthetics are mind-blowing—and the effects. Whew!”
Thus began her hash career, as she learned the traditional art of hash making using a method called bottle tech, now colloquially known as “Frenchy tech,” in which a hot bottle of water is rolled over hash to both homogenize and partially decarboxylate it. Armed with newfound knowledge, Duchess started profiling hash makers for Weed World. She’d learn their backstories and methods and sample their melts.
“Every single hash maker I interviewed contributed to my hash-making style,” Duchess says, “and Frenchy’s foundation is a good 60 or 70%.”
She’s written over 100,000 words about dozens of hash makers, production, growing, and experiencing the wonders of hashish in all its forms. She’s posted much of her learning online, with “how-to” videos on YouTube and Instagram.
“People I’ve never met thank me for teaching them hash making through the internet,” Duchess says.
She also posts about how she integrates cannabis, hashish, and psychedelics into her everyday life.
“I’ve found that my approach has been key in reaching women who often feel mansplained to,” she says. “I’ve told stories about wins and losses, and my life journey is the background for exploring mind, body, and soul.”
Duchess found a second home in the cannabis community when she visited Barcelona in 2015.
“I was recognized in San Sebastian by one of my favorite hash makers—Edu, a.k.a. Blue Ice,” she says. “That set off a series of introductions that have proven immeasurably beneficial in my growth as a processor.”
Hash-loving Spain has been the perfect environment for Duchess to flourish in, both as a hash maker and a writer. It’s also the only place she’s ever run afoul of the law—in March 2017, she was arrested for hash possession and spent two days in solitary confinement.
“I was released with a warning to not get into any trouble in Spain,” she says.
But in September 2018, she was served by the U.S. Department of Justice with a notice that she was being charged with international drug trafficking and could face five years in prison.
“My tremendously good lawyer had that reduced to two years,” Duchess says. “I had the option of taking a two-year ban or returning to Spain to fight my case.”
After years of seeding her place in the Barcelona cannabis club ecosystem, she was reluctant to turn away, so she fought the case and was acquitted in February 2019.
Now that she’s back in her hometown, Duchess plans to continue teaching the traditional style of hash making as a consultant. She’s also considering collaborating with growers on limited offerings, rather than seeking a New York license for herself, she says: “I’d like to be able to touch resin all over the state.” In addition to her consulting and educational work, Duchess plans to build a content platform focused on high-quality concentrates and their makers and another focused on Black and brown women in cannabis. She also has a line of eyewear coming out in collaboration with Method Seven, called “The Duchess,” designed for indoor growers with a sense of style.
Duchess is also keeping her eye on regulators and lobbyists as legal weed comes online.
“I feel like the future for New York is bright,” she says. “It’s such a huge market that opportunities for influence on the global scale are infinite. What happens here influences everything. And I feel like right here is where I need to be.”
Few names loom as large over exotic American cannabis as Anna Willey. In a legal industry where jokes about quality have become the norm, not many companies have been able to float on top of that noise based on the quality of the product. Hers, California Artisanal Medicine or CAM, is like a battleship ripping through the waves of the decimated California industry.
While many struggle to sell middle-tier products as elite, Willey can barely feed the monster. She’s on the cusp of opening her 2,000-plus-light cathedral of hype in Sacramento, on top of a new facility she just opened in Long Beach. The facility will be her second in California’s capital, with the ground now breaking on a third. Willey jokes she’ll run back to her 500-lighter if she screws it up, but many insiders expect the facility to become one of America’s premier heat factories once it’s finished. Some even inquired with Willey about her helping their own production needs.
But how did a bubbly Indian-born retired software engineer climb to the highest heights of California’s cannabis industry with a stop on the Colorado throne along the way? It all started in what is currently the wildest frontier in legal cannabis, New York City.
Working Your Way Up
Willey arrived in NYC with her parents at the age of 6. At one point, her dad would leave mom in NYC while he headed north to get a degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the top engineering schools on the planet. Her mom would become a nurse. By sixth grade in 1985, Willey would become a courier for one of NYC’s famed old-school weed delivery services. She pointed to that moment as where her real cannabis adventure started, but before that, she had enjoyed the smell the first time she was around someone smoking.
“Back then, it was all about the service in New York City,” Willey told High Times. “To get into cannabis, you had to get a job delivering weed, and you needed to kind of work your way up the system.”
When she came home with the cash from her efforts, her parents’ conservative household took a no-questions-asked policy. She would work for the service for a few years. If you ordered cannabis from the service between 2nd and Gold and Murray Hill, Willey would show up right out of school with her Catholic schoolgirl uniform and 1.2 grams for $120 bucks. Willey said it sounds steep, but buyers had to say yes or they would get a visit from a large Puerto Rican man.
Her parents still turned a blind eye.
“I think that they thought it stopped for a little bit in college,” Willey said, smiling. “As all Indian people and children when they’re born, they tell you that you can be many different types of a doctor. You can just pick a type of doctor. So, obviously, I did not want to be a doctor.”
Growing & Coding
Willey noted her sister skipped the medical school plan too, but her mom still tells people she’s a pharmacist. By 10th grade, Willey was bodega hopping in Harlem and the Lower East Side looking for the newest issues of High Times. After graduating from college, Willey would move west to Colorado in 1998.
When she arrived, she immediately met a grower named John from Fort Collins. He offered to set her up in a grow house. There she would learn to grow. She laughed, noting how much easier it is in the modern era to get the info you need, “Nowadays, you just get on to YouTube. And it’s crazy, right?”
When she did get on the internet forums, she felt there was a ton of support. She was amazed by just how many people were open to helping her. With her background in tech, she also didn’t have any fears about covering her tracks as she searched for the answers to her growroom problems on sites that would eventually be shut down by the feds.
Nevertheless, her first round would not go to plan.
“All males,” Willey said. “And I’m talking about ripe ball sacks covering the plant. I kept posting to IC Mag and Overgrow like, ‘These are new strains.’ I thought I created a new strain.”
Willey noted that pollen stuck around for about a year and a half and caused a lot of headaches. The first strains she would work with included DJ Short’s Blueberry and Fort Collins Cough.
Through all this, Willey continued writing code for IBM and Computer Associates. It was the early beginnings of the move towards automation in as many sectors as possible. Willey’s STEM background from childhood through college would give her much more faith in technology than her peers back then. She applied this knowledge to the grow.
“So it was a huge breakthrough, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m breaking through in technology,’ because I was one of the first people to do automated grows,” Willey said. “So everyone that I met would boast about hand watering and [was] also constantly talking about how they want to be there when the lights are on.”
Willey thought the idea of needing to be completely hands-on was dumb, and people needed to learn about timers. What if they got sick or had a flat tire on the way to the grow? There are a thousand reasons to have some redundancy when talking about getting your lights powered up on time.
During that era in Colorado, she would start growing in rockwool. Eventually, she would make the move to Hydroton and use it through 2009 before making the jump to an ebb-and-flow system with Hydroton.
While continuing to develop her skills, she would open Colorado’s third dispensary. Her first fully legal grow would be 30 lights, the next 150. She thought she was in heaven.
The next major factor in her rise came in 2011. She decided she was going to get her general contractor’s license.
“It took me two years. I worked under a bunch of subcontractors, mechanical, plumbing, electrical. l learned enough about those trades to actually get a general contractor license,” Willey said. “And then I was able to do my own builds. That’s when it was over. I had a 40,000-square-foot warehouse. I had 760 lights. I had three warehouses.”
Her weed started to take off. As demand increased, she started the ongoing quest of growing as much fire as possible that she’s on to this day. At the peak of her Colorado cultivation capacity she would have 1,250 lights.
“We would literally do it like New York City deli style,” Willey said. “When we ran out of weed that day, we were out of weed.”
The store would close early every day for three years. Every single day they ran out of weed, even as Willey expanded she just couldn’t keep up. Another thing helping push numbers was the fact hers was the first shop in Colorado offering half-eighths. This allowed people to mix and match more than other dispensaries. When Willey worked the counter herself, the half-eighths weighed a little heavy. The patients loved it.
Moving on from Magic Dust
In 2013 and 2014, she started plotting her move west. She was already getting a lot of her genetics from California.
“I was very aware of how much better California cannabis was; even five months old light deps were severely better than what I call the magic dust,” Willey said.
No matter how good Willey was at growing pot, it was never going to be able to compete with the cannabis being grown at sea level in California. Even to this day, indoor farms skirting the waster in the San Francisco Bay Area are considered among the best in the world.
Willey would eventually sell everything she owned. But as with much of her life, it all started on the forums. They were alive and well through the cannabis floods and droughts of the mid-2010s. As she continued to watch the landscape, it was very obvious to her that those with the heat were in the best shape. California was the land of the heat, and it was before the price crashes we’d start to see later in the decade.
When she arrived in California to start her conquests in 2018, she wanted to get on METRC as soon as possible. Her buildout ended up taking eight months, and everything was on the books. Her friends already here balked at the idea, but her first California runs were basically as compliant as they could be at that moment.
But how did she end up in Sacramento? In her early goings, she would attempt to get set up in Oakland. She quickly realized it was not the most friendly place for cannabis with everyone from the city council to the landlords lining up to milk the industry. But as she worked to fund the California move, one of the jobs she was doing was licensing work. Through that work, she would become familiar with just how friendly Sacramento is to cannabis businesses.
“I noticed it was the number one place that was super friendly to other people. I had a great connection with the Connected team, and Sacramento was celebrating Connected, giving them a store license, whatever they applied for,” Willey said of the observation. “So I was like, ‘OK, this town seems much friendlier.’”
There is an argument to be made that her decision to move to Sacramento has crafted one of the biggest cannabis companies to hit the top-shelf market following legalization. There was always going to be a boutique class of bougie top shelf selection for those who wanted to pay big money. When Willey hit Sacramento, it was the beginning of that kind of quality being normalized for everyone.
She laughed and noted it wasn’t that easy out the gate. When she went all-in on California and sold her last Colorado warehouse, she brought 19 OGs with her that nobody wanted. It was all good though! She found a guy in the desert with a Harvard business degree that would buy all this pot, but he quickly realized consumers couldn’t tell the difference between light deps and indoor, especially if they couldn’t look before they bought it. He ended up making the switch to pounds he could get for $850 as opposed to Willey’s indoor.
“He ditched me for deps in October,” Willey said. “It was brutal and hilarious at the same time.”
Eventually, Willey would get her hands on cuts more suited to Californians’ tastes. As soon as CAM flowers started hitting shelves, it was always priced at least $5 cheaper than things of comparable quality, sometimes even $15 bucks cheaper as others attempted to cash in on whatever hype had gotten them that far. Shelf by shelf, CAM began to dot California from north to south.
One of the reasons for that competitive price point was how much cheaper it was to operate in Sacramento compared to her initial potential home in Oakland.
“I got super lucky with my landlord in Sacramento,” Willey said. “It was still insanely expensive, $1.75 a square foot. But the building was good. We all had a good foundation and relatively good TPO [thermoplastic polyolefin] roofs. They already had some basic power, 800 to 1,000 amps. It had some good bones if you can say that about a building.”
Things were eventually going well. Someone offered to buy her out. But two days before making the deal she pulled out. She was destined to grow the heat for the masses, how could she stop now?
In the end, it would work out.
“Everybody talks about how we got all these investors and whatever. I got lucky and I got one partner and that’s all I really needed. And then one of my closest friends, a grower in Colorado at Grand LAX, Josh Granville, had already come up before, and he was, you know, doing his own thing.”
Easy as Apple Pie
Eventually, Willey got her hands on some Apple Pie. It was some kind of bastardized version of Apple Fritter that her friends at the kings of apple weed, Lumpy’s, had vetted as something close to the original Fritter but not exactly the same thing. This was also the strain that put CAM on my radar back in the day. It was the absolute top of the mountain. There is a strong argument to be made at the peak of apple terps hype a couple of years ago, the three most popular strains were CAM’s Apple Pie, Lumpy’s original Fritter phenos, and Alien Labs’s Atomic Apple. The trio firmly separated themselves from the pack.
She would send a box of that primo Apple Pie to Berner from Cookies. His lineup of dispensaries is now one of CAM’s biggest clients. Willey transitioned to all the doors that have opened for her over the years through her dedication to the flame and regardless of plumbing.
“My experience of being a woman in cannabis is that I’ve just been surrounded by older brothers, mentors, people that have embraced me and shown me so much love and respect,” Willey said. “I’m not here to tell people there is not sexism or misogyny inside the industry. I’m not here to say that. I’m just here to talk about my experience and my experience with all these people that are in cannabis that have moms and sisters and girlfriends, and whatever, like really treated me as such.”
Things would change a lot from those early runs. Gone were the Harvard MBAs that were flush with newly raised capital and ready to buy anything in a jar that tested half decent. Then came the consolidation of many companies. Those with the heat like Willey would be survivors, but it was nuts. She started seeing things like dehydrated nugs going through testing to make the THC numbers higher. She didn’t even realize for a bit you could shop around the same batch for the highest THC numbers since there are no standardized cannabis lab operating procedures (plans are set to change next year.).
“And it’s about to happen. The homogenization of the testing process is going to be revolutionary for cannabis in California. I really do believe that because you will finally be able to grow a lot of strains [that you can’t in a THC-driven market,]” Willey said.
She’s been sitting on cuts for years, waiting for the moment lab testing wouldn’t be as big a factor. About 80% of them are mother plants; the rest are in tissue culture.
We asked Willey if there was a moment where she knew her weed was doing better than most as the walls were caving in on the California industry. She explained it’s not about the hundreds of stores she finds herself in but the sell-through. That’s when she knows she is connecting with the shop’s clientele.
“The one thing I really want to convey is how lucky I am with how much love California has shown some small transplant,” Willey said. “I have the best team. I can’t like, I mean, I want like a whole segment of this conversation to be about how lucky I got.”
“Sex, drugs, and rock & roll, baby!” That is the Freddie Gibbs story, at least according to the man himself. Posted up at a Los Angeles restaurant just hours before his latest album $oul $old $eparatelywas to arrive, Gibbs was in good spirits, seemingly without a care in the world. He flirted with the waitress, flashed his 1,000-watt smile as he spoke and laughed easily, a stark contrast from the Gangsta Gibbs persona that is sprinkled throughout his catalog.
Growing up in Gary, Indiana (which he proudly pointed out is the same city where Michael Jackson was born), Gibbs’s household soared with the sounds of Motown. Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and The Isley Brothers wove his musical fabric—then he discovered Too $hort and The Geto Boys’s Scarface. He knew then he wanted to do some “gangster shit.”
“I didn’t even know if I had no talent for music,” he said. “One of my best friends, he was rapping and shit and I saw he was making the moves to rap, like making CDs and manufacturing and shit. I was just like, ‘I want to be a part of that some kind of way.’ I didn’t know it was going to end up being rapping, I just took a chance and that just happened to be the direction God pointed me in.”
Gibbs initially signed a deal with Interscope Records in 2004 and was supposed to release his major label debut with the company, but he was dropped in 2006 and the album never saw the light of day. After finding his way to CTE World, he encountered another speed bump when his relationship with founder Jeezy went south. Years of jumping from indie label to indie label followed and $oul $old $eparately marks his return to a major label (Atlantic Records).
“I’m excited but definitely fucking nervous,” he said of the album’s impending arrival. “It’s my first album on a major label, so it’s like everything’s magnified and you under the microscope. My whole career, they’ve been telling me I couldn’t do this and do well doing this. So now, I’m at the point where I’m about to do it for real. I’m about to really do it.
“It’s sad that it took this long to get to this point, but I’m not mad, man. God puts you in a position you’re supposed to be in when you’re supposed to be in it. And I know a lot of guys in this rap game that was here and gone, and I’m still here. I’m talking about over a hundred n-ggas out there that I’ve seen get signed over me, that I’ve seen get deals over me, that I’ve seen get better looks than me. I’m here and they not here now. It’s all about being here in the now. I know a lot of n-ggas that are musically irrelevant. All these n-ggas really ain’t relevant musically. They’re just social media stars, to be honest.”
Gibbs often teeters the line when it comes to social media. With infamous e-battles with media personality Akademiks and fellow rapper Benny The Butcher, Gibbs knows how to get clicks with his relentless sparring. But he also has the talent to back it up, a rare combination in rap’s current landscape. $oul $old $eparately is another example of Gibbs’s staunch commitment to his craft. Although he opted not to employ the production of frequent collaborators Madlib and Alchemist, producers such as Kaytranada, James Blake, and DJ Paul were able to retain Gibbs’s gritty aesthetic, while allowing him to explore new terrain. He wouldn’t mind getting another Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album and would certainly embrace a win.
“Once you get that feeling, that’s just like smoking crack,” he said. “You want to get right back to it, you feel me? People ask me, ‘Oh, do you want to be nominated?’ Of course I do. What the fuck? I mean, did I make an album to be nominated for the Grammys? No. I made an album to make good music. But do I want to be nominated? Of course I fucking do, every time. I want to dress up, take my homies out, I want to take my mom out. Of course I want to be nominated. I want to be recognized for myself. And I think that my hard work is a clear-cut answer to why they put me in the Grammys. I wasn’t in the Grammys or that shit because I had a hit radio single or because I was some pop star, they put me there because I deserve to be there. My album is better than those other albums.”
He continued: “They know I was supposed to win, but they gave that shit to Nas because that’s Nas. I get it. It’s Nas, he deserve that. He deserve a Grammy in his career. He hadn’t won one before. But I wasn’t mad about losing to Nas. If I would have lost to anybody else, I would have been like, ‘Fuck them.’ Nas, they can take that. But everybody else, I would have had to fight them for it.”
Gibbs might not admit it, but he seems to be in friendly competition with Nas, one of hip-hop’s most lauded MCs. He brought him up again when talking about his creative evolution, almost as if he wanted to make it clear he’s aiming to top him. Gibbs samples a Nas classic in his 2021 single Big Boss Rabbit.
“I wasn’t really trying to top Alfredo, I was just trying to progress musically,” he explained. “I could have easily went back to Alchemist and just be like let’s do Alfredo Part 2 right now. But that would’ve been expected, that would’ve been an easy thing to do. That would’ve been like, I mean, shit, no disrespect, but Nas and Hit-Boy did that bullshit where they coming back with King’s Disease II. Nah, my n-gga. Every album with me is a different kind of movie.”
Each album in his catalog does feel cinematic in scope with his colorful tales of his drug-dealing past but on $oul $old $eparately, Gibbs digs deep into the amygdala region of his brain and goes to an emotional place atypical of a Freddie Gibbs album, especially on songs such as Grandma’s Stoveand Rabbit Vision.
“It’s the eve of the album and I damn near want to take them songs off because I don’t really want everybody to see me vulnerable like that,” he said. “A lot of that shit is embarrassing. On Grandma’s Stove I’m talking about my issues with my baby mamas and that’s kind of embarrassing. I feel bad about that because I got love for all them. And a lot of that shit that I was expressing on there was anger. I don’t not have no love for the mothers of my children. I love all them.
“It’s just that, a lot of the times, I be caught in the moment and I just be rapping, and I got to get that shit off. It can mean life or death. It’s a therapeutic thing for me. So there’s some things that I say on this album about some people that I don’t necessarily really mean, especially with the baby mom stuff. I don’t really mean to hurt, but it was probably regurgitated energy. She probably said something that hurt me or I did something that hurt her and I didn’t know, but that wasn’t my intention.”
Gibbs at least has the medicinal benefits of weed to calm his nerves. His routine doesn’t waiver—every morning, he smokes a blunt while going to the bathroom then goes about his day.
“When I get up out the bed—I’m old as fuck—I do a hundred pushups and a hundred sit-ups after I have sex to see if I still got it,” he explains matter-of-factly. “Then I get up. I might run like three or four miles. I start the day at like six in the morning. I take my daughter to school at 8:30 a.m. then pick up my son for daycare.
“At night, after I put the kids to sleep at 8:30 p.m., I’m rapping in the studio or writing a script or just vibing out. I got my studio in my house, so I’m just in there really just smoking, man. That shit like a black hole. It’s like all black, black walls. You can’t even see nothing, it’s all dark. So I be in there just creating. I go into my creative mode day-to-day.”
His affinity for cannabis earned him a dishonorable discharge from the Army at 20 years old, right when he started rapping.
“I was selling weed and smoking it,” he said. “You can’t do both. So it was either that or being in the Army. I had to get out of there.”
Gibbs now has a life he never would have imagined—Grammy Award nomination, deal with Atlantic Records, creative freedom and the ability to work with some of the biggest artists in the music business, something he struggles to wrap his head around.
“I can’t believe it sometimes,” he says. “I’m blessed, man. It’s God. It’s prayer. Like my mama said, ‘Favor ain’t fair.’ You God’s favorite if he put you in positions, so it is what it is. I got to give my glory to God. It ain’t me. God gave me the talent.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. It was published in the January 2023 issueof High Times Magazine.
M. E. doesn’t look like a Hollywood movie star. His face is too fat, his ears too large, his nose poorly shaped. And yet he would make a compelling appearance on screen. He has a distinctive style, a gruff but likeable voice, and he moves across a room as though he’s an actor in a movie of his own making. At the age of 32 he’s a veteran Hollywood marijuana dealer, cautious, sly and usually silent about his work. On the first day I met him at the Bel Air Sands Hotel he was wearing a white shirt, black leather tie, dark glasses and a Borsolino hat. Over coffee he talked about growing up in Southern California, and his initial forays into the dope trade as a high school student. He took me for a spin in his 76 Porsche. In Malibu we walked on the beach and had lunch at Geoffrey’s, a swank restaurant on the Pacific Coast Highway. Later that afternoon he took me to a secluded house along the shore and showed me half a dozen different varieties of marijuana, all of which he’d named after Hollywood movies: Burma Road, Citizen Kane, Treasure of Sierra Madre, Purple Rain, African Queen and Wizard of Oz. He rolled a joint. I turned on the tape recorder, sat back and listened while he talked about his adventures and observations as a dealer in the heart of movieland.
One Sunday night I was cruising along Sunset Boulevard, listening to Springsteen on the radio, just watching the world go by. A Mercedes Benz passed me in the left lane, then slowed down so that I could read the personalized license plate. It said “Movi Biz.” I followed behind for several blocks, and then suddenly I thought to myself, “This is my life. What else have I been doing for years but literally follow on the tail of the movie business.” That’s what it has felt like anyway, and I can’t honestly complain because I’ve made a decent living and I’ve had a chance to mix with celebrities, and some extraordinarily creative people, too. I’ve enjoyed serving as a drug dealer to the stars. I’ve had to put up with some prima donnas—more than a couple of actresses I’ve met have expected to be treated like queens. But they pay for it, and making two or three million dollars a year they can afford to. I’ve aIways had a sliding scale: you pay more if you live in the hills, and I don’t see anything wrong with charging a director or bankable star extra bucks for that pound of Jornia sinsemilla. Believe me, they get the best marijuana in the world—the stuff that the grower usually keeps in private reserve, and they get it all perfectly manicured, neatly packaged, sensitively wrapped. It’s the essence of designer drugs. Besides that, I always give a performance. I know the growers, know the history of the crop—where it was cultivated, when it was harvested, how it was cured—and I tell that story when I deliver the dope. It makes a difference knowing exactly what you are smoking. I make the season into a movie, but that’s exactly what you’ve got to do as a dealer in Hollywood. It’s what’s expected of you because Hollywood sees the world on screen. It sees life as a scenario. I’ve been following the Movi Biz so long that I’ve caught the disease. I see myself as an actor in a marijuana movie, and sometimes I’ve got to snap my fingers and tell myself that this isn’t a dream, that I’d better edit my fantasies or I’m the fall guy. But stopping the projector isn’t easy in Hollywood, especially with all that money and power and glamour. It’s incredibly seductive, and a perfect breeding ground for dreams.
My own fantasy was that I was going to make the big leap from marijuana dealer to movie mogul. In fact, early in my career as dealer I had the idea for a movie—a California marijuana movie. Not a documentary, not a Cheech and Chong comedy either, but a feature-length drama with all the essential ingredients and big stars too—Jack Nicholson, William Hurt, Jane Fonda. I didn’t have the plot all worked out, but I had reels and reels of images and scenes in my head, and I was certain that somebody would buy them and put them on screen.
Movies are a big part of my life. They always have been, ever since I was a kid, and they probably always will loom large in my field of vision. I guess that you could say that I’m addicted to the movies. I crave them, need them, desire them. Sitting in a dark theatre watching a picture is my favorite form of escape. I relax, open up, stretch my imagination. It’s like being born again and again and again.
The movies I like best are murder mysteries, detective stories, thrillers. I’ve never seen The Sound of Music, but what I do like I’ve seen over and over again so many times that I can recite the dialogue all the way through. My all-time favorites are mostly classics like Out of the Past with Robert Mitchum, The Big Sleep,The Maltese Falcon, To Have and to Have Not with Bogart and Bacall, Citizen Kane and The Third Man with Orson Welles, but I also like newer films, Scarface and The Godfather, of course, as well as The Sicilian Clan, The Big Chill, Gorky Park, Body Heat—you can see I’m a big William Hurt fan. I wanted to make a movie that would have the feel, the atmosphere, and the excitement too that those movies have generated in me.
I’ve been fortunate. Over the past dozen or so years I’ve gotten to know movie people—actors, directors, producers, writers, cameramen. I’ve got an inside track. So when I got my idea for a pot picture I began to knock on all those familiar doors, and to tell my story. Almost everything that I talked about had happened to me. I’ve grown pot, smuggled pot, sold pot; had encounters with cops, thieves, con artists, ex-cons, district attorneys, judges, customs agents, the DEA. So I took my own life and turned it into a movie. I had veterans of the trade spellbound right before my eyes. Some of the movie people I knew and trusted, and frankly admitted to them that all the material was autobiographical. But with others I was a lot more cautious. I didn’t see the need to confess felonies to everyone.
Right away I found out that I was naive. I didn’t realize how difficult it is to make a movie, especially a movie about drugs, and how many stumbling blocks there are. Hollywood is one of the richest drug capitals of the Western world. Hollywood loves its marijuana and its cocaine, but for obvious reasons it isn’t anxious to advertise that fact, or to make movies involving marijuana and cocaine. It comes too close to home. Sure there have been films in which drugs play a part. Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton smoke a joint in 9 to 5 and William Hurt snorts a few lines in The Big Chill. Drugs are a part of America—they’re as American as the World Series, as much a part of our lives as baseball and hot dogs. And wouldn’t that be a terrific movie to make, a movie about baseball and cocaine, with the snitch as the villain? But will Hollywood make that movie? Probably not. When it comes to illegal substances Hollywood is awfully cautious, and very much concerned to preserve its image.
One producer told me in no uncertain terms that there was an unwritten code at the studio where he worked. Number one, he said, you can’t show people doing drugs and deriving pleasure from them. You’re supposed to show the poor, pathetic junkie strung out, suffering miserably, and you’re supposed to show drug people as essentially evil types. Number two, you can’t show drug people getting away with it, because crime doesn’t pay. The growers and dealers can’t be shown making money and becoming successful. They have got to be caught and punished. This producer said that if he didn’t make a movie that fullfilled those two basic requirements he’d be in trouble. Sure he was making a million dollars a year, but he’d be unemployed. You learn right away that if you don’t play it by the rules, you’re expendable. If you don’t follow the code, church and civic leaders will be on your back. Gossip columnists will drop your name in bad company and pretty soon the corporation executives will be breathing down your neck. As you can guess, he turned down the idea.
Another producer told me that he had a reputation for being a head and that he was trying to shake that reputation, aiming for a newer, cleaner image in the ’80s. He claimed that he wanted to make a marijuana movie, but if he did, he said, everyone would assume that he was still smoking up a storm. So he couldn’t move on my project either. He had to make romantic comedies and love stories with happy endings.
Finally I did find a director who was hot on the idea of a California marijuana picture. Curiously, he didn’t smoke pot or snort coke. And he had even made an anti-drug propaganda film for high school students that was used by Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party in the last election. He was young and ambitious, this hustling director, and he thought that a marijuana movie with lots of sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, and a bit of violence too, would make it big with the teenage market come summertime. He sat me down and tried to pump me to get all he could out of me: how marijuana was grown and how it was marketed, how much it cost and what kinds of people smoked it. He didn’t know anything about pot, or about human beings either because he’d spent his entire life thinking up plots and making up characters. I didn’t tell him anything about myself or my activities, just the kind of information anybody could get out of the library.
He insisted that the movie had to be a remake of an old movie. That’s the way Hollywood worked, he said. You took the plot from a movie that had been made in the ’30s or ’40s and you plugged in marijuana. Remakes were the key to success, he insisted. He chose the John Huston classic, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre with Humphrey Bogart. A terrific choice I thought, but by the time he was through with it, it was a joke, a travesty.
John Huston had been raped. The screenplay he wrote fullfilled all the requirements of the Hollywood drug code. At the end the marijuana is confiscated by the sheriff and burned. It goes up in smoke and nobody gets a chance to smoke it. All the characters are greedy, jealous, competitive, low-life types you wouldn’t want to know. The two men fight over the same woman. One of them kills the other. The other goes crazy. There was one stereotype after another. I tried to get him to recognize the distortions he was creating, but he wouldn’t see it. At the end of his story he had to bring in the Mafia. He couldn’t conceive of a drug film without the Mafia playing a big part. But that’s typical of Hollywood thinking. Mention drugs and they automatically think Mafia, greasy Italians smoking cigars and driving in black limousines.
From the start, this director had told me that he wanted to make a movie that showed drug people as losers, and that’s exactly what he did do. Funny thing—nobody wanted it, and he peddled it everywhere he could, from the big studios to the sleaziest of the independents. It was that bad, that offensive. Working with this director turned me off to the idea of making a marijuana movie. I got to a point where I wanted no movie made at all rather than having his rip-off put on the screen. The last day I saw him, he says, “Hey, can you lend me a hundred dollars?” You know, it hasn’t come back to me yet.
But some exciting things did happen to me when I tried to make a marijuana picture. I met lots of actors, directors and producers who wanted to buy pot, and who appreciate California sinsemilla, people who smoke it day in and day out and enjoy it, and at the same time are successful in their careers. Sure, I’ve met characters who have done so much coke that they’ve botched big pictures and blown big budgets, but.for the most part I came in contact with Hollywood people who get high and make good movies. They aren’t losers, not in the least, but big winners, and I became a winner too.
Dealing pot in Hollywood has been good to me. If I hadn’t become a marijuana salesman I’d be poor right now. I wouldn’t have my Porsche or this house. And marijuana has expanded my world. Without it I’d never have penetrated Hollywood. I’d never have gotten inside those mansions in Bel Air, Beverly Hills, and Malibu. Marijuana has been a kind of key, opening doors. It’s a rich atmosphere I’ve been able to move in and it’s gone to my head. I’ve gotten high just being among celebrities.
Sometimes I do some consulting. Two, maybe three times a year someone tells me that there’s a new marijuana screenplay making the rounds. My friends show me the screenplay, and ask “Is it accurate?” “What do you think?” All the screenplays are the same. They have the same basic plots and characters; they’re about losers. Crime never pays, and nobody ever enjoys drugs. One thing I’ve noticed is Hollywood people are under tremendous pressure, perhaps more pressure than marijuana growers or dealers. The grower or dealer has to beware of cops, thieves, pests, blights. The director or producer has tremendous competition from other producers and directors. They are always in fear of failure, of losing money, and making a flop. And actors—they are a world in and of themselves—such egos and such bundles of nerves. For them marijuana is medicine. It enables them to survive, to cope with all the tensions, the lights, the action, and the camera. Believe me, being in front of the camera can be as intense as being under the gun. You think there’s warfare in the dope fields and in the streets—hell, the warfare in Hollywood studios is much more intense.
My closest Hollywood friends tell me that by comparison with the work they do, my hands are clean. So many of them feel that they make dirty deals, prostitute themselves and their values, while the dope deals I do are clean and unadulterated. Maybe so. They seem to feel that they’re always having to make a pact with the devil, that for every decent film they have to make two empty films. They tell me they often have to trade off better judgments for bigger profits.
I’ve seen a lot. It’s been an education. I’ve watched the old rags-to-riches story unfold: guys working as messenger boys working their way up the ladder, becoming heads of studios and marrying actresses. But I’ve also seen the riches-to-rags story too: millionaire movie producers going under, Academy Award actors faltering in their careers and after a success or two, never making another big picture.
I’d still like to make a Hollywood movie about marijuana, something with style, humor, lots of action, and sympathetic characters. There might be a loser in the film, but it wouldn’t be about losers. Somebody might go to jail, but it would show that crime can, and in fact, does pay. It pays very well. And it would show what we all know to be true, that people get high and enjoy it. Maybe someday that’ll be possible. If so, I’d like to have a hand in it, maybe even do a little acting, maybe play the part of the marijuana dealer to the Hollywood stars. Right now I’ll go on dealing to Hollywood. This will be my ninth year. Sure there’s a risk, but so is making a picture. Sometimes I get scared and think about changing occupations. But I’m still here. There’s the money, of course, but there’s a big thrill too, especially in the fall, right after the California marijuana harvest when I arrive on doorsteps and in living rooms with pounds of the new crop, all pungent and fresh and waiting to be smoked.
I’ve brought pot to San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and New York. New York is good. It’s one of the best, but nowhere do I get a warmer welcome than in Hollywood. Maybe because they’re under so much pressure they appreciate good marijuana. I’m treated like a hero, like a movie star you might say. Smoking dope, my friends tell me, keeps them honest in a dishonest world, and what could be more rewarding, more satisfying than that?
Except the parties. We do party a lot. And it’s exciting to be in one place with so many film people getting high together, eating, drinking, dancing, watching movies, and talking about movies, sitting in the sun and swimming in the backyard pool. I work hard and I like to play hard. I like my pleasures. As one director friend of mine says, “I’m a hedonist. While Rome bums, while this civilization of ours falls apart, I’m going to enjoy myself.”
The gifting industry is lacking in imagination these days. Boxes of chocolates, themed gift baskets, and edible arrangements are kind gestures but they’re often overused and lacking in innovation. While the gift of flowers is timeless, brands such as Lovepot are taking things up a few notches by offering luxurious floral arrangements that include high-quality hemp.
Lovepot founder Cevon Lee Iny has led a successful career in the fashion and jewelry industries. She’s secured roles managing production at Gucci factories in Italy, spent years as a Playboy wardrobe stylist, and sold jewelry at Jacquie Aiche, a high-end jewelry company based in Los Angeles that has gone on to dedicate an entire collection to cannabis-themed jewelry pieces.
Through working in those industries, Iny realized that the cannabis industry did not yet offer specialty products for those who prefer style and luxury.
“I just realized that there were all these people like me, who are very smart, they’re very successful, they have cool style, you know what I mean? And there’s just nothing out there for them,” Iny says.
So she founded the lifestyle blog House of Eden in 2017 as a way to fill that niche including an 18k gold-plated vaporizer. Next in 2020, Iny created Lovepot to offer premium hemp flower arrangements.
The Luxury of Lovepot
Lovepot bouquets are offered in two arranged varieties: fresh and dried. Currently, fresh bouquets are only available in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Each one includes a variety of decorative hemp leaves, as well as smokable hemp flowers that can be dried and enjoyed later.
The hemp strains used in these fresh floral arrangements are Hula Girl (a sativa-leaning strain that features bright, vibrant green leaves) or Blue Moon (which has a natural, purple hue that’s darker and “less leafy, but more nuggy,” Iny explains).
Lovepot’s dry hemp arrangements can be shipped anywhere across the nation and include dried hemp buds that can be plucked off of the stem and smoked immediately. The brand also offers a few other unique giftable items, such hemp pre-rolls, and a “Nuggs and Kisses Box,” which includes buds sitting in wrappers similar to a box of chocolates.
Perfecting the Process
Putting together these floral hemp arrangements may sound easy enough, but Iny went through a lot of trial and error to make Lovepot a reality.
“I came from like a luxury fashion background and ended up in flowers but flowers are quite expensive [as a] luxury item and it’s a very challenging business,” Iny says.
In the beginning, she says that it took about six months to figure out the best time to cut the hemp stems.
“And I’d say that this is what would differentiate me from anybody else who would want to do what we do [at Lovepot]… We had to figure out exactly what week we could cut [the hemp], where it still stayed leafy but still had nugs that you could cure. We had to figure out how to transport it. We had to figure out how to keep it alive,” Iny explains.
It was most important to figure out how to preserve fresh hemp materials, but it also took time to find the right farmers who understood Iny’s vision. She estimates that she contacted 30 farmers, from California, Oregon and even Kentucky, trying to find someone who was able to provide what she needed.
“A lot of farmers, especially the men, were like OK, it wasn’t a large enough minimum order for them,” Iny says. “And to stop their production process to go out into the field and cut these stems when I can only order so much at a time because I have to sell it while it’s fresh—that’s been the biggest challenge of Lovepot.”
Eventually she found the perfect partner with an all-women grow team at Nevada Crest Farms, based in Pahrump, Nevada (located west of Las Vegas on the border of Nevada and California). Nevada Crest Farms cultivates hemp in a greenhouse year-round, and they’re able to continually have plants growing so that stems are readily available for Lovepot.
“I have amazing women who understand what I’m doing, who believe in the long-term vision. Honestly, like the women growers, they just believe in what I’m trying to create and are supporting my vision, and they have a section in their grow just for us at all times, which is so cool,” says Iny.
Events and Beyond
While Iny enjoys creating aesthetically pleasing hemp bouquets for individual orders, she also loves curating floral hemp displays for private events.
In the past, Lovepot has worked on a women’s event hosted by Curaleaf, which featured a 20-foot wall of colorful flowers and hemp. The brand has also experimented with decorating a massive bathtub for a private dispensary party (complete with floating hemp leaves and candles). Lovepot also created a stunning display at the High Times 100 event in 2022, which featured an ombre display of red and pink roses mixed with hemp gracefully cascading out of the open door of a vintage Mercedes-Benz convertible.
From stunning single bouquets to lavish event displays, Lovepot continues to impress with a wow-factor for every occasion. Iny shares that she’d love to expand Lovepot’s footprint into new markets, but for now Iny looks to keep expanding the blend of cannabis and luxury as the world continues to shed the Stoner stigma.
This article was originally published in the March 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.
It’s easy to forget you’re talking to an accomplished artist who’s collaborated with Kanye West, The Roots’ Black Thought, Busta Rhymes, and a slew of other notable hip-hop heavyweights, but that’s just who Westside Gunn is. He’s the kid from Buffalo, New York who made it. Despite all odds being stacked against him, he’s the one who escaped the perils of the streets and, in the words of Outkast, got up, got out, and got something. Along with his brother Conway the Machine and cousin Benny the Butcher, the Flygod took Griselda Records from a tiny, homegrown label to a partnership with Eminem and manager Paul Rosenberg’s imprint, Shady Records. Even with all of his success, his respect for hip-hop’s architects and pioneers shines through, while his humble demeanor and relatability remain intact.
Case in point, Westside Gunn just returned to Buffalo after a whirlwind trip to New York City and Philadelphia where he was shooting a music video for his final installment of the Hitler Wears Hermes series, 10. His plans are to take his nieces and nephews to see Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, eat a lot of good food, and check in with his people. Clearly, Gunn isn’t like other rappers. He didn’t get his start at age 20 and have to go through the growing pains of becoming an adult in front of an audience nor did he struggle with any kind of identity crisis as he encountered fame—he already knew who he was. Having just turned 40 in July, he was able to look at the music business with a different lens.
“I don’t have to go through the problems of being young Westside Gunn and being immature,” he said. “Not only just being mature, but you also gotta think, being at this age, I’ve been in every phase of hip-hop. So I was there in the Run-DMC days, the Slick Rick days, Ice-T, and N.W.A, all the way back as far as I can remember—LL COOL J, Salt-N-Pepa, Kool Moe Dee. I was there for MC Hammer, I was there for Kool G Rap, then Nas and Wu-Tang. I’ve been through every phrase. I’m really a student of the game. I’m born in 1982, so my whole life has been hip-hop.”
Westside Gunn has been on a creative high for years now, releasing several projects back-to-back, including Pray for Parisand Who Made the Sunshine, both released in 2020. But interestingly enough, Gunn never set out to rap.
“I still don’t want to rap,” he said with a laugh. “But the thing about it is, every year I give ‘em another classic. That’s me not wanting to rap.”
He’d tried before. In 2005, he released his first mixtape, but legal troubles kept him from seriously pursuing it. When Conway got shot in 2012, everything changed. That was the moment he decided to pick up the mic again.
“We was already living like rappers,” he explained. “I tried to rap in ’04. I tried once. It wasn’t like I tried all the time. I didn’t rap again from 2005 to 2012, but I knew how to rap. My style was the exact same. When I started back in 2012, I kept my same style and went big. I was trying to get Conway on and we was working. Once he got shot, I still knew people in offices and I was still getting my feet wet. If anybody’s going to bet on me, it’s going to be me. So I went extra hard and did something nobody else is doing. In 2012, Atlanta was heavy. There was a big Southern influence and I came out of nowhere with just the raw boom bap shit.”
Gunn wanted to make an immediate impact—and he did. As he admitted, he was looking for “shock value” and chose to put Adolf Hitler, one of history’s most controversial figures, on the cover of his mixtape.
“The title at first was Devil Wears Prada and I switched it because I was like, ‘I’m not going to keep the same name, so let me think of some crazy shit,’” he recalled. “Hitler Wears Hermes was what came to my mind first. It wasn’t like I thought of no other name. I didn’t want nobody to know who I was, so I put out this mix CD with Hitler on the cover to see what would happen. Mind you, I hadn’t rapped in seven years, and I made this project in like five days. I was on some fly shit though, and that was the first Hitler Loves Hermes. I wanted to see their reaction and what people were thinking. That’s how it all started.”
Ten years later, Westside Gunn has closed the door on the popular series but said he feels “good” about it.
“A lot of people in this game, they come and go,” he continued. “For me to be able to say I did it 10 times is legendary in itself. That’s just [to] let you know that I’ve been putting in work for a decade, and a lot people can’t say that. Even after a decade, I’m just now starting to get certain looks after 10 years of working. That just lets you know you just gotta work hard, stay consistent and don’t give up ‘cause there’s always another level. I carved my own lane, so I’m already happy. I don’t care if I don’t get no bigger than what I am now, for what I’ve done in these 10 years, I done carved my own lane, I did it my own way and I’m super happy.”
And it shows. Granted, it could be the weed. Gunn smokes an astonishing 28 blunts from sunrise to sunset, equating to about an ounce per day. In fact, he was rolling one up during the conversation. And like Snoop Dogg, he has a professional blunt roller on his payroll.
“I have some rolled up for me every day,” he said. “I got a professional blunt roller last month. I got ‘em on salary to do other things as well, so that’s not the only thing they do. They just get that part out of the way, but they’re definitely on salary. I might do two gram blunts or I might just do one gram blunts ‘cause I like chain-smoking. After a while, when you smoke blunts, you get used to it like smoking a cigarette. I smoke so much I like the one gram blunts but just back-to-back. But I’m trying to break out of smoking ‘cause I smoke so much, I wanna try to get cleaner. I smoke too much.”
Together with Chauncey Leopardi, who played Squints in the film The Sandlot in 1993 and is the owner of the cannabis and lifestyle brand Squintz, Westside Gunn took his love of weed and turned it into a business. The strain he was smoking is called “The Liz,” which was named after The Liz 2 album by Armani Caesar, one of Griselda’s artists, and inspired by Leopardi’s signature strain, “The Wendy.” (Wendy was the girl Squints had a crush on in the movie.)
“Squints is the mastermind,” he explained. “I’m just the good guy that markets the smoke well. Me and him grew a relationship and I said, ‘Hey, I wanna come with it, too. I just want something special.’ He had that one and he had four others just in case. I picked ‘The Liz’ and we got the bags together.”
If anything, the new business venture is yet another testament to Gunn’s unrelenting work ethic. Armed with a seemingly endless reservoir of self-motivation and determination, he’s created his own empire. Speaking to The Joe Budden Podcastin 2021, Gunn announced he’d severed ties with Shady Records, a bold move considering the weight Eminem’s name holds in the industry. But Gunn knew it was the right decision.
“I’m always going to be thankful for Paul [Rosenberg] and Marshall [Mathers],” he said. “I was with Shady Records and I dropped Who Made the Sunshineand What Would Chine Gun Do. It’s all love. We made our history together. It’s different chapters in life. It’s not one of those things to be upset or cry about or nothing. It’s chapters. It was just time for me to move on.”
For now, Gunn is focused on his pending projects, one of which is Michelle, named after his late Aunt Chelle who passed away in November 2021. As he explained in an Instagram post at the time, Chelle was like a mother to him and her death hit him hard, but he has a plan to continue honoring her.
“I’m doing a lot of things to keep her name alive,” he said. “Right now, I’m staying working, staying ahead. She was my biggest fan. She wanted me to turn up, so I’m going to keep turning up.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. It was published in the February 2023 issueof High Times Magazine.
When Oregon voters passed Proposition 109 in 2020, they cleared a path for greater access to the therapeutic use of psilocybin mushrooms and products that contain their active compounds. The ballot measure, which was approved with more than 55% of the vote, authorized the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to create a program to permit licensed service providers to produce and administer psilocybin-producing mushroom products to adults 21 years of age or older.
A model for progressive drug policy reform, Prop. 109 also laid the groundwork for a new industry in Oregon. The OHA’s Psilocybin Services Section is charged with drafting rules to license and regulate the manufacturing, transportation, delivery, sale, and purchase of psilocybin products as well as the provision of psilocybin services, with a mandate to have the program up and running in 2023. The agency is already accepting applications for psilocybin business licenses and savvy entrepreneurs are launching new enterprises to service a rising industry.
A New Business is Born
George Sellhorn, founder and principal scientist at Flourish Labs in Portland, is one of the business owners preparing for the launch of legal psilocybin in Oregon. He has had a personal relationship with psychedelics, including psilocybin mushrooms, since he was a teenager and acknowledges that psychedelics have had a “huge impact” on his life. He is also an avid cannabis enthusiast and, with tips and encouragement from High Times, has been growing his own plants since 1993. His interest in and passion for cannabis inspired his academic pursuits, with Sellhorn earning a Ph.D. in plant biochemistry from the University of Washington in 2006.
At that time, the legal cannabis industry in the U.S. was in its infancy, and positions in professional fields were few and far between. Sellhorn turned to biotechnology to begin his career, with stints working on cancer therapeutics and an HIV vaccine. Before long, however, friends with businesses in the emerging industry encouraged him to open a cannabis testing lab. Intent on seeing where his chosen path would take, he decided against going into business for himself, although he did dabble in the industry a bit and helped a couple of friends get labs set up. It seemed right for Sellhorn at the time, but it didn’t take long for him to wish he had decided differently.
“A few years later, I kind of was kicking myself saying, ‘I probably should have started a lab, and I’d probably be a lot happier than I am right now,’” he tells me in a telephone interview.
After the passage of Prop. 109, things came full circle. Once again, friends in a soon-to-be legal industry encouraged him to open a lab. The ballot measure includes provisions directing the OHA’s regulations for testing psilocybin products for contamination. Additionally, therapists would want to know the dosage of active compounds they were administering, leading to a need for potency data throughout the supply chain.
Sellhorn remembers thinking, “I’ve been down this road before,” and decided he wouldn’t leave himself open to later regrets this time around. He began ordering the lab equipment and supplies he would need to launch the operation in September 2021, and by the beginning of 2022, Flourish Labs was ready to start taking in samples and running tests.
Sellhorn says that testing mushrooms is quite similar to lab analysis of cannabis, but with one key difference. Like many cannabis labs, Sellhorn uses high-performance liquid chromatography incorporated with ultra-violet spectroscopy (HPLC-UV) to separate the molecules of a given sample and determine its makeup. However, unlike cannabinoids, which are fat-soluble (hydrophobic), the alkaloids in mushrooms are water-soluble (hydrophilic), necessitating a change in the approach to make it work. “So, same methods as cannabis, but just the opposite chemistry,” Sellhorn summarizes.
Lab Testing for Psilocybin, and More
Much of the time Sellhorn spends in testing involves determining the amount of psychoactive alkaloids, or potency, a particular sample contains. More than 50 species of mushrooms produce psilocybin, which is expressed at different levels determined by factors including genetics and cultivation practices.
“The most potent mushroom that I’ve seen from different people is an Albino Penis Envy or an APE,” says Sellhorn. “Eve tested anywhere from 0.1% alkaloids, up to 2.3% was the highest one that I’ve tested so far. So, there’s a pretty big range. The average, I’d say, is about 0.5% to 0.7% alkaloids [by dry weight].”
Initially, Sellhorn’s business plan primarily involved analyzing mushrooms that contain psilocybin and related alkaloids, including psilocin, psilocybin, norpsilocin, baeocystin, and norbaeocystin. Since opening Flourish Labs, he has also developed testing protocols for other products made with psilocybin mushrooms that are likely to be part of Oregon’s upcoming regulated market.
“I can also do fruiting bodies and gummies, chocolates, and extracts, whether it be liquid extract or dry extract” he explains. “So, I have a protocol for all of the possible products that could be made, that I’m aware of, as of now.”
Dosage is Key
Sellhorn notes that the renewed interest in the reported health and wellness benefits of psilocybin has fostered a new culture of microdosing, which Sellhorn has been practicing for more than four years. To microdose, only a tiny fraction of a psychedelic dose of psilocybin is taken, perhaps 0.1 to 0.2 milligrams, Sellhorn suggests. With mushrooms of average potency (rounded up to 1% total alkaloids), that translates to about a tenth to two-tenths of a gram of mushroom biomass. “That’s like a really nice microdose, and you can adjust it based on body weight,” he says. “A microdose should be enough to lift your mood but not feel any of the psychedelic effects like you’re about to trip.”
At the other end of the spectrum is macrodosing, which involves taking enough psilocybin to produce a strong psychedelic effect, which can either be a heck of a fun trip or a space for life-changing spiritual or psychological breakthroughs, depending on the intention with which the drug is taken. To macrodose, Sellhorn says a dosage of 30 milligrams to 50 milligrams of psilocybin (approximately 5 grams of mushroom biomass) should be about right for an intense trip. And within the extremes of micro and macrodosing, “there’s doses in between there for whatever you’re looking for.”
In addition to potency, Sellhorn notes that the form of psilocybin taken can also influence the effects of the drug. While eating dried mushrooms is the classic method of consumption, extracted psilocybin and products made from it can modify the drug’s effects.
“It’s abundantly clear to me now that the mushroom biomass itself acts like a time-release capsule. So, if you take a mushroom that has, say, five milligrams of psilocybin in it, and you eat that, you’ll get a certain effect,” he explains. “And it’ll take a certain amount of time to hit you. But if you take five milligrams in a gummy or a chocolate, it hits you way faster, it’s much more intense, and it gets over more quickly.”
Sellhorn’s work in the lab has given him an opportunity to increase his knowledge about other psilocybin best practices, as well. He notes that proper storage is very effective at preserving the potency of psilocybin mushrooms. When a client was looking for data on potency degradation, an in-house study determined that mushrooms stored in a vacuum-sealed bag and kept in dark conditions at 60° Fahrenheit retained 98% of their potency after four months.
An Expanding Scientific Field
Although he sees a strong market for analyzing psilocybin-containing mushrooms coming to Oregon, Sellhorn realized that demand for lab testing may be limited until the industry is more established and generating revenue. Although the state’s regulations will likely eventually include requirements for testing for microbial contamination or the presence of heavy metals in addition to potency, such testing is not yet in high demand. So, to supplement his business plan, Flourish Labs has also begun lab testing of so-called functional mushrooms including cordyceps, reishi, and amanita muscaria (famous in folklore and pop culture) for compounds that could have health and wellness benefits. Additional species to be tested by the lab in the coming months include lion’s mane, chaga, maitake, tremella, and turkey tail.
When regulated production and administration of psilocybin for therapeutic purposes begins in Oregon later this year, it will launch a new industry in the state and become a milestone in the continued evolution of drug policy reform. Leading the way will be a new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs, including Sellhorn and Flourish Labs.